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PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT

Anger Spreads Across Muslim World; Service for Americans Killed in Libya

Aired September 14, 2012 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This is the scene in Cairo, a tense standoff between police and protesters. And across the Muslim world, the rage is boiling over. U.S. embassies and consulates under siege in the Middle East, Africa and even Asia. Crowds in the street lashing out at America over a video mocking Islam.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, in for Piers Morgan.

There is fear and uncertainty tonight over where this crisis is heading. This map shows the unrest spreading to more than a dozen nations.

In Sudan, a chilling image on a day where mobs tore into the U.S. and German embassy compounds. Tonight, the U.S. is sending Marines there to reinforce security at the embassy.

In Pakistan, a disturbing and familiar scene as the crowd burns the American flag.

And, look at this, in Tunisia, crowds storming the U.S. embassy as black smoke rises from the compound.

And in Afghanistan, two U.S. Marines are dead after a sustained attack at a military base where Prince Harry is now stationed as well.

Back home, an emotional service at Joint Base Andrews for the arrival of the bodies of the four Americans killed in Libya. The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, information management officer Sean Smith, and security personnel Glenn Doherty and Tyrone Woods were honored and remembered.

President Obama spoke about them, calling them heroes who gave their lives for our country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They had a mission, and they believed in it. They knew the danger, and they accepted it. They didn't simply embrace the American ideal, they lived it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We'll have much more on the service coming up but first the latest on the wave of protests.

Joining us now, Arwa Damon in Benghazi, Libya, Ben Wedeman is in Cairo.

Arwa, let me start with you. What's going on in Benghazi right now?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the situation is pretty tense. Just about every single Libyan that we have been speaking to, of course, expressing their horror, their outrage about Tuesday's attack, saying this most certainly is not indicative of how Libyans themselves feel. This most recently is not why Libyans overthrew Gadhafi's regime, but also really wanting to see their own government begin to take control, begin to rein in these various militias.

The government for its part now does believe, says it's 100 percent confident that Tuesday's attack was carried out by extremist group or groups. They say they detained four people, not disclosing which group they were affiliated with. But they were also say they go believe this attack was preplanned, intended to inflict maximum damage to drive an irreparable wedge between the Libyans and Americans.

But what is also disturbing, Wolf, is that the government is saying that at this point in time, it does not possess the capabilities to control this armed extremist groups.

BLITZER: Arwa, earlier you walked through what remains of that U.S. consulate in Benghazi where Ambassador Stevens and the three other Americans were killed in Tuesday's attack and you sent us dramatic video. Walk us through what you saw.

DAMON: We walked into the main residential building and that is where we were told Ambassador Stevens died of smoke inhalation, standing inside that location, seeing a partial bloodstains on the wall, seeing the soot, the ash, the debris, seeing remnants of the life that was and bits and pieces of what those two were actually stationed there, believed in there, there was a piece of paper that had scrawled across it "Libya is so important." it was a real chilling, somber experience to be walking through it.

And one also, though, must point out at this stage that the attack that took place did not just happen at this one location. After personnel were evacuated from this compound, they were then taken to a safe house where we are being told a short while later that location, too, coming under attack. So this really is putting a lot of questions out there, first and foremost of course the capabilities of the Libyan government but also the questions to whether or not the U.S. underestimated the threat that it faces here.

Libyan security officials have been telling us that for months now they've been warning the United States about this growing extremist threat and that they have been growing ever more concerned about how little control they actually themselves have over the situation.

BLITZER: Arwa, please be careful over there in Benghazi. We'll stay in close touch.

Arwa Damon, one of our courageous journalists.

In Cairo, meanwhile, events are escalating. The Egyptian capital is tense, the U.S. embassy is tense.

Ben Wedeman is joining us now. What is going on right now? Are they still out in Tahrir Square?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Actually, at the moment it's gone relatively quiet. Tahrir Square looks pretty normally, given that it's 3:00 in the morning here in Cairo.

In the streets below me, just a few protesters milling around, but we haven't heard the bang of tear gas being fired by the security forces. Now, this day could have been much worse in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood had called for nationwide protests against this offensive YouTube video that sparked this crisis. But at the last moment, they cancelled those protests. So really we've seen a small protest outside the U.S. consulate in Alexandria.

Here in Cairo the numbers are down. It's important to keep in mind that there's just a few hundred protesters outside the U.S. embassy, clashing with the Egyptian security forces, this in a city of 18 million people.

Most people staying at home, not taking part in these demonstrations. Many Egyptians I've spoken to have said they were, of course, offended by the YouTube video but certainly did not support, do not support the violent protests outside the U.S. embassy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: One thing that's very disturbing to me because we talked about this, the Muslim Brotherhood leadership, which effectively now controls Egypt, they're saying one thing, positive words in English to the Americans, to the outside community, but they're saying something radically different to their own people in Arabic and you're fluent in Arabic, Ben.

Explain what's going on.

WEDEMAN: Well, if you go on their -- the Arabic Web site of the Muslim Brotherhood, they seem to take a fairly much harder line on these demonstrations. In fact, initially, they had a story praising the young men who breached the embassy walls on Tuesday evening.

Now, today I was with some of the sort of rank-and-file of the Muslim Brotherhood in a different part of town, and their rhetoric really wasn't much different from what we're hearing on the streets below, you know, condemnation of the United States, accusing the United States of fostering terrorism worldwide, of being in an alliance with Israel against Egypt. This is very much sort of the standard rhetoric of the Muslim Brotherhood when you get down to, you know, their rank-and-file. This is the normal rhetoric that they speak of among themselves.

But certainly what we've seen in the last 24 to 48 hours is an attempt by the leadership, for instance, we saw that letter published in the "New York Times" from Khairat el-Shater, the number two in the Muslim Brotherhood, saying that he's against the violation of diplomatic sanctity, that he expressed condolences of the death of the U.S. ambassador in Libya.

But when you talk to ordinary member of the Muslim Brotherhood, it's a completely different message -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Another one of our courageous journalists. Ben, please be careful yourself. Ben Wedeman in Cairo.

Now to that final journey home for the four Americans killed in Libya. Joining us now Robin Wright. She's a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson Center here in Washington. She was a close personal friend of Ambassador Stevens.

Robin, such a sad day for all of us, especially for someone like you who knew him for 20 years.

Listen to the secretary of state at the memorial service today. \

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: People loved to work with Chris. And as he rose through the ranks, they loved to work for Chris. He was known not only for his courage but for his smile, goofy but contagious, for his sense of fun and that California cool.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You knew him for about 20 years. You were at his swearing in ceremony when he became the ambassador.

Talk a little bit about how this has impacted you. I know even last week, you were in touch with him about an upcoming trip to Libya.

ROBIN WRIGHT, U.S. INST. OF PEACE, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: Chris was an extraordinary man, craving for curiosity about this part of the world. He was willing to go anywhere. Remember, this was his third tour in Libya. He'd also served in Syria, the Palestinian territories and in Saudi Arabia. He was willing to take on these tough assignments over and over and over again.

And yet he did have this kind of goofy sense of humor and he always made me laugh with a self-effacing story about one of his misadventures. He once in Libya was followed by one of Moammar Gadhafi's intelligence agents and he snatched the camera away from the Libyan goon and turned and snapped the guy's picture with it and then he smiled and gave the camera back, but he made his point.

He engaged once when he was based in Jerusalem, at the U.S. consulate, which dealt with the Palestinian, he was in the middle of the second intifada and a time of real tensions when Palestinians were blowing themselves up in Israeli bus stations and Israelis were raiding West Bank villages, and he and a colleague went out in the middle of a rare snowstorm in Jerusalem and started lobbing snowballs at each other and the Israelis and Palestinians on both sides of the divide got involved and it was a moment that broke what was one of the tensest times in relations.

BLITZER: Very sad -- very sad day. Do you think there were some warning signals missed that could have prevented what happened in Benghazi?

WRIGHT: The United States issued a travel warning just last month talking about the increase in political violence, assassinations, car bombings, warned that the wide array of militias could begin engaging with each other at any time, at anyplace in the country and cautioned Americans to stay away from Libya and particularly certain parts of Libya.

And so, yes, there were lots of warnings about the dangers. But remember, these are all countries in transition and these are all new governments that don't have complete control over the security apparatus. In Libya, that's particularly true in the aftermath of 42 years of Moammar Gadhafi's rule and the emergence of some 300 militias in a brief eight-month period as the rebels fought to oust Gadhafi.

BLITZER: One final thought before I let you go, Robin. If he were alive now, what would he want the U.S. to do in the short term as a result of what happened in Libya this week?

WRIGHT: I think he would say waver not, do not fear the future. Engage and also allow those on the ground to lead the way. Let the Libyans and Egyptians and Tunisians guide the United States and its allies on what role it can play, not try to go in heavy-handed, as the United States has often done.

I also think when it comes to his own death, he probably would have said make sure that these guys get a free and fair trial and that they reflect the new rule of law in Libya.

BLITZER: Robin Wright, thanks very much for coming in.

WRIGHT: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, the former U.S. ambassador to Morocco on the surge of violent protests against America.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The United States of America will never retreat from the world. We will never stop working for the dignity and freedom that every person deserves, whatever their creed, whatever their faith. That's the essence of American leadership. That's the spirit that sets us apart from other nations.

This was their work in Benghazi, and this is the work we will carry on.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: President Obama today at the moving ceremony for Ambassador Chris Stevens and the three other Americans killed in the Benghazi attack on Tuesday.

Libyan officials now believe the attack was planned.

Marc Ginsberg is the former U.S. ambassador to Morocco. He knows the region well. he's joining us.

Marc, thanks very much for coming in.

It's the 11th anniversary of 9/11, there are warnings out there, the U.S. and others recently killed a top al Qaeda leader from Libya. Was this consulate adequately protected?

MARC GINSBERG, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO MORROCO: Given the circumstances in Benghazi, Wolf, probably not -- probably because there had been similar attacks on the British ambassador's convoy, there had been an infiltration of Islamic extremists from the southern part of Libya, there had been a series of attacks near the airport.

So there's no doubt that Chris was well aware at the time that Benghazi was less than a secure city.

BLITZER: What do you think caused this attack? Was it simply that anti-Islamic film or is there something much bigger here that explains this hatred of the United States?

GINSBERG: Well, with respect to Libya, I don't think it has to do with hatred of the United States. But there's no doubt that al Qaeda in the Maghreb, the Ansar al-Islam terrorist groups, could have been Gadhafi dead-enders who have been plotting to destabilize the government.

But across the rest of the region, there's clearly a permutations of different levels of anti-Americanism that has risen again. The usual suspects claiming that the United States is waging a war against Islam, disappointments with the U.S. policies in the region, and the struggle, the intramural struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and more Islamic extremist across the region.

BLITZER: As important as Libya is, Egypt is certainly from the U.S. perspective much more important. I assume you like a lot of others are deeply disappointed that the newly elected president, Mohamed Morsi, was so shy at least at the beginning in condemning the attack on the U.S. embassy.

GINSBERG: Well, indeed. You know, when he went to Tehran just a few days before that, I was hoping he would keep punching above his weight. But it's quite clear that domestically in Egypt, between the Salafist Islamic extremists that are part of this so-called loose coalition that is going to be governing Egypt with him and his desire to placate and to be ideologically pure to his own constituency, the Muslim Brotherhood, he decided to basically jettison his responsibilities as president to the rest of the outside world and it took a call from the president of the United States to remind him that his constituency and his support is not only from within Egypt but also from the United States and other countries.

BLITZER: Before becoming President Clinton's ambassador in Morocco, you served under Jimmy Carter. You advised him on the Middle East. Those were tumultuous days. And we're now even seeing that knows American and other international observers in Sinai are coming under attack. They've been there since 1981.

Is it time to get those guys out of there? About 750 American soldiers remain in Sinai.

GINSBERG: Well, indeed. And given the fact there's been an infiltration of Islamic extremists supporting Bedouins who are basically attacking Israelis and Egyptian forces, these American and United Nations troops are being caught in the middle.

More importantly, Wolf, the real problem that we're seeing here is just use this as an example. Look at the Islamic extremists in Egypt who have the megaphone now, whether in the mosque or on the media, and could cause the mobilization of people to rise up and to march on embassies, just think what would happen if they decided to march into the Sinai against Israel.

So, U.N. buffer forces are even more essential. It's going to require Egyptians to be far more vigilant about what's happening in Sinai, not only because of these terrorist activities because they may realize they may have opened the Pandora's box by letting Sheikh Qaradawi and other Islamic extremists giving them their mega phones back in Cairo.

BLITZER: How do you think President Obama is handling this crisis?

GINSBERG: I think he's trying to do the best he can under the circumstances. Clearly, there's the domestic political equation side, the president has to deal with the failing expectations that Muslims have of him. I mean, part of the problem here since his trip to Cairo in 2009, when he gave this incredibly well-received speech in which so many Muslims were holding on to the hope that he would deliver a better region to them, between the failure to forge a peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Wolf, and the disappointment over his support for regimes and dictators like Mubarak, even though he didn't really do that, there's misperceptions that have crept back into the U.S./Islamic dialogue that are causing further strife for public diplomacy by the United States and the Middle East.

BLITZER: And the streets of Cairo remain tense right now, of Tahrir Square, not far from the United States embassy. Marc Ginsberg, thanks very much for coming in.

GINSBERG: Thank you, Wolf, for having me.

BLITZER: And coming up, a member Libya's royal family. Is this country again spinning out of control?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: A deadly consulate attack and facing an uncertain future, right now, Libya is searching for stability after the fall of Gadhafi. Joining us now is his royal highness, Prince Mahdi al- Senussi, a member of the Libyan royal family.

Your Royal Highness, thanks very much for coming in. I know you're in touch with people in Libya right now. This must be such a shock. When you heard about the killing of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, what went through your mind?

PRINCE MAHDI AL-SENUSSI, MEMBER OF THE LIBYAN ROYAL FAMILY: We were absolutely caught by surprise. Most of our family members and friends in Libya were shocked to think something like this would occur in our country and we condemned it in the strongest terms and.

And our heart goes out to the families of Chris -- Ambassador Chris Stevens, Tyrone Woods, Glenn Doherty and Sean Smith. On behalf of my family and the Libyan people, we deeply heart-felt condolence and pay our respects to them.

BLITZER: Who do you believe, Your Highness, was responsible for these murders?

AL-SENUSSI: We believe that because we have a successful revolution to overthrow the brutal regime, the former regime, the element of Gadhafi former regime, who are financed by outside of Libya, financing them inside the country.

BLITZER: Who is financing these elements according to your information?

AL-SENUSSI: These are Gadhafi -- these are Gadhafi you can say sympathizers and supporters who have taken -- who have control of Libyan funds overseas. They are in Egypt and they are in France and they are, of course, in Africa -- in Morocco. And they have -- they do provide the funds to those elements inside the country to undermine the government and Libya as a nation and the people, the innocent people, victims of their crime.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Because we know, your highness, that there are elements of al Qaeda roaming around Libya right now. Is there a connection between al Qaeda and whom you believe to be responsible for these murders?

AL-SENUSSI: We do -- the prime -- the elected prime minister yesterday announced the capture and the arrest of four members of those -- of those criminals. And they will begin to interrogate them and shortly we will know exactly who is behind it at this point. We will know soon.

BLITZER: Soon enough.

But you believe this was timed deliberately, they targeted the American ambassador and they wanted to do it on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. Do you believe that?

AL-SENUSSI: I believe that strongly that they're doing this for, one, the 9/11, two, to disrupt the Libyan-American relationship; three is to undermine the successful revolution because yesterday Libya elected the prime minister who is a capable, able, U.S.-educated, and we are proud to have him to be our prime minister to lead our country forward.

BLITZER: Did you know Ambassador Stevens personally?

AL-SENUSSI: I do not, but my family members do. And they are grateful to him for bringing Libya and the United States much closer economically, culturally, politically. And he played a vital role to keep our two countries united and coming closer together.

BLITZER: Let's get back to these pro-Gadhafi elements. You and your family obviously hated Moammar Gadhafi. He was your enemy, the enemy of a lot of people in Libya. How much influence do these elements still have inside Libya?

AL-SENUSSI: Frankly, Wolf, they don't have much, but they have money and they have resources that they employ to Libyans who are right now seeking to -- for stability. And they are looking for ways to move forward with them. So they come up and give them money and promise them the future. And some of them are close to them because they have 40 years relationship with them.

And they provide them with all these resources, weapons and smuggling. And they have billions of dollars under their control. It's not a hundred million or 20; billions of dollars that these guys have, these criminal guys have them. And they transfer those cash to those criminals inside the country. They're terrorists.

BLITZER: If there's a coordination with other terrorists, that could be a huge problem for Libya, indeed for the rest of the world as well. Your royal highness, thank you for joining us. We really appreciate.

AL-SENUSSI: Thank you very much for having me.

BLITZER: Thank you. Coming up, the crisis overseas leads to new battles out there on the campaign trail here at home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look across that region today and what do we see? The slaughter of brave dissidents in Syria, mobs storming American embassies and consulates, Iran four years closer to getting a nuclear weapon. Israel, our best ally in the region, treated with indifference, bordering on contempt by the Obama administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: Amid all these threats and dangers, what we do not see is steady, consistent American leadership. In the days ahead and in the years ahead, American foreign policy needs moral clarity and firmness of purpose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan on the attack against President Obama's foreign policy. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney offered a softer tone today, a change from his original criticism of the president.

Joining us now, three guests. Ben Smith is the editor in chief of Buzzfeed, CNN political contributor Margaret Hoover and CNN political contributor Maria Cardona. Thanks so much to all of you for coming.

Maria, the Republicans, the supporters of Romney basically making the case that Obama's weakness, they say, the mixed signals he's sending, sort of suggests America is weak and this invites the kind of violence we've seen against U.S. interests over the past few days. Do you want to respond to that?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Sure, absolutely, Wolf. Frankly it's just a misguided notion. I think the majority of the American voters will see it that way. I guess they have to do something because they're so behind on the issue of foreign policy that I guess they feel they have to throw everything plus the kitchen sink to see if they can make a dent in President Obama's leadership here.

And frankly it shows in the numbers. He's ahead by, what, eight to 10 points on foreign policy. And I think, frankly, the blunder that Mitt Romney made earlier this week in attacking President Obama on 9/11 with misguided facts I think underscores the fact that he is just not ready to be commander in chief. And they're worried about that.

BLITZER: Margaret, I don't want to rehash too much history, but was that a blunder?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think even Mitt Romney has suggested that within a certain time frame, maybe he might not have said it that way. But he has stuck to his word that he and the president actually agree that the initial statement that the embassy made wasn't in the best interest of the country.

To a point, I disagree with Maria that the Romney campaign is trying -- I do think there's an opportunity here for the Republicans to make foreign policy an issue. Maria is right, President Obama has led on foreign policy by double digits for some time now. But there's a real moral imperative to make the case for a failure of American leadership abroad right now. This is an opportunity.

Frankly. President Obama hasn't spoken to the Muslim world the way he did when he first came to office for some time now. This is a perfect opportunity for a Cairo speech 2.0, now that there's so much tumult and so much change --

(CROSS TALK)

BLITZER: Would that be smart? With only a few weeks to go before the election, for the president to do another Cairo 2.0 kind of speech? And the second part of the question, Ben, would it be smart for Mitt Romney to deliver a major foreign policy address?

BEN SMITH, BUZZFEED: I think you're more likely to see Mitt Romney do it than President Obama, because that kind of clarity is a luxury that you have -- that candidate Obama had in 2008 when you're not president of the United States. Everything the president says, including his stumble about whether Egypt is an ally or not, has these really direct consequences in the region and these complicated diplomatic situations where he's trying to get a variety of governments to protect people at American embassies.

There's just a bunch of very specific things he is trying to get done. He has his hands tied a bit.

BLITZER: Margaret, when you look at these most recent polls -- and these are polls done before the violence erupted in North Africa and the Middle East -- on these battleground states, let's take a look at it. These are NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll numbers. In Ohio right now, Obama 50, Romney 43. In Virginia and Florida, Obama 49, Romney 44.

I've spoken to a lot of Republicans. They're beginning to get very depressed when they see these numbers, because as you know, no Republican has ever been elected president without at least Ohio. How worried should these Republicans be?

HOOVER: Look, I think if you ask any Republican right now, if the election were held today, who would win, most Republicans would say unfortunately it looks like President Obama is leading. Mitt Romney is not leading. I agree with you, Ohio and Florida are, in this case, in a close election, which this is going to be, must wins for Mitt Romney.

There are varying polls, by the way, on Virginia. Virginia is looking strong for President Obama, but it's all over the map. President Obama certainly has more paths to victory than Mitt Romney. He has to win Florida and Ohio and then he's going to have to pick up some of these other smaller states, Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire. Wisconsin's in play.

Again, polls are a snapshot of where we are now. You're right, it was before all of this tumult in the Middle East began again. To the extent that they represent a trend line is where it tells us something. Ohio is really the only one of the three you mentioned that I think Republicans are beginning to think is light blue and may be gone.

BLITZER: Maria, the advantage that the Republicans and Romney have is they're probably going to have a lot more money, given the super PAC contributions that they've amassed over these final weeks. How significant is that in Ohio, in Florida, in Virginia and some of these other battleground states?

CARDONA: It could potentially be very significant, Wolf. So while I'll say that I feel really good about where President Obama is right now, there's still a long time, frankly many lifetimes left in political life from here to the election. So anything can happen.

The super PACs on Romney's side have a lot more money than the super PACs on President Obama's side. But what President Obama does have, I think, is right now I think the faith of the American people and essentially the likability factor. And coming out of the convention underscored the fact that he is the candidate that really understands what middle-class families are going through, what they're struggling through, what workers are struggling through.

That is something that was really absent from the Republican convention. And I think that's why you saw the kind of bump that President Obama what has enjoyed from his convention versus the almost zero bump that Romney had out of the Republican convention.

BLITZER: But Ben, you know, these poll numbers, they go up, go down. They can change. Three presidential debates coming up in October, one vice presidential debate. Tens of millions of Americans will be watching, especially those who are still undecided or switchable, if you will.

Romney spoke to George Stephanopoulos and he was asked about the debates. This is what he said about the president of the United States. Ben, listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I think the challenge that I'll have in the debate is that the president tends to -- how shall I say it? Say things that aren't true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That was a pretty blunt comment. What did you make of that, Ben?

SMITH: I think at some point last month this whole presidential campaign degenerated into the two sides calling each other liars, in part over specific things like Paul Ryan's marathon time that maybe were a little bit fudged, but mostly over policy disagreements, where rather than argue the policy, it's more effective in the focus group to call each other names. And both of them indulged in that quite a bit. I think Romney is, in some way, trying to lower expectations for the debate. And maybe this is one way of doing it.

BLITZER: That's pretty blunt, Margaret, to call the president of the United States in effect a liar.

HOOVER: Yeah. I mean, look, I can't disagree with you there. I think a lot rests on the first debate. And I do think there is -- and I hope that there is not an accidental a lowering of the bar. Mitt Romney actually really does need to hit a home run in his first debate. He needs to win definitively and get -- shift momentum in his direction.

BLITZER: Are you confident -- Maria, you support the president. Are you confident he has got what it takes to beat him in these three debates?

CARDONA: I do, Wolf. Frankly, I think what Mitt Romney said was a little bit beyond the pale, especially when it's his campaign who has been really misinforming the American public on welfare reform and where the president stands on that, on the whole issue of apologizing for America on Medicare.

BLITZER: I think Romney and a lot of other Republicans, indeed a lot of other people, were really angry at that pro-Obama super PAC ad that suggested that Romney, while he was at Bain Capital, was directly or at least indirectly responsible for the death of the wife of one of the laid off workers. That really, really irritated them. I suspect that's why he said what he said to George Stephanopoulos.

We'll leave it there, guys. We're going to continue this conversation down the road. Margaret, Maria and Ben, good discussion.

Up next, I'll ask Fareed Zakaria if these protests are really over a movie or if something else behind the outrage?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: What began this week in Libya and Egypt is now spreading across the Muslim world. And many are wondering if the Arab Spring is now becoming an Arab Winter. I want to bring in Fareed Zakaria. He's the host of CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS," and also a columnist at "Time Magazine," our sister publication. Is it now, Fareed, an Arab Winter? Is it premature to say that? What do you think?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: I don't think that's quite the right way to think about it, Wolf. I think that these are societies that have been ruled by brutal dictatorships for 50 years. Everything was suppressed in these society. Now we've taken the lid off. It turns out there's a bunch of good stuff in there. There are moderates, pragmatists, liberals. But there are also some very nasty people.

What you're seeing is the reality of these societies. There are extremists. There are Islamic fundamentalists. There are people who wish America ill. Remember, most of these protests are a few hundred people in societies of tens of millions of people.

But it's true there, are these cancers within these Arab society. All the things we've talked about, you and I, for the last ten years are still there. Now what we do is because these are more democratic democrats, we see it all and we're going to have to fight it. Those people, the moderates will have to fight it. And they will have to fight it with words and deeds and political movements. In the old days in Egypt, you wouldn't have seen any of this stuff, because Mubarak would have shot the protesters. I'm not sure that's the best answer.

BLITZER: Yes. I'm sure that's not the best answer either. Give us a little perspective. Is this solely about that stupid film, that anti Muslim film? Or are we seeing something more -- these opportunistic protests, something more sinister? Some have suggested that there may be an inspiration from at least some elements of al Qaeda?

ZAKARIA: I think it is more sinister. I'm not sure how strong al Qaeda and Zawahiri are here. I think what's really going on is, again, imagine these societies, the lids been taken off. What you are seeing are political contests. What you are seeing forces for a kind of backward version of Islam, a political version of Islam, for Jihad, that are trying to gain the upper hand.

Think about Libya. What's happened in Libya -- the real story in Libya is the moderates won the elections. They -- the real hard liners and radicals and extremists lost. Now what's happening is those hard-liners, those extremists, having been unable to win through the legitimate Democratic process, are using violence and terror to intimidate people and to, in a sense, gain what they couldn't gain in the polls.

In Egypt, what you are seeing is these radicals trying to intimidate the democratically elected president. And by the way, succeeding, alas. The democratically elected president should have shown more spine. So I think it's more of that than a kind of overall al Qaeda plot. My sense is that the Al Qaeda central is not really behind this, but these local Jihadi forces are.

BLITZER: You know that Russia's Vladimir Putin is quoted as warning that the Arab world, his words, could descend now into chaos. Is that fear overblown?

ZAKARIA: I think Putin has his own concern, which is he has a great deal of Islamic radicalism within his country. Part of it produced, one has to say, because of the Russian army's brutal ten- year suppression of people in Chechnya. So he's looking at it perhaps with hyper sensitive eyes. I tend to think, Wolf, that most likely this is going to be one of those events, like the Koran burning or the Danish cartoons, that will flare, but it will flare out as well.

You can never be sure, because something -- one of these groups might get lucky and they might create some kind of an international incident. But so far, the protests remain, as I say, mostly in the hundreds. And, remember, Egypt is a country of what, 60 million people? It would still seem to be the vast majority of people in these societies are not involved in any of these protests.

BLITZER: You know, the criticism of the president coming in from Romney's supporters. Some of his foreign policy advisers, at least in part, the U.S. has itself to blame, because the Obama administration, they say, has shown weakness in that part of the world, and the enemies of the United States are jumping on that. What do you think of that criticism?

ZAKARIA: I think it fundamentally misunderstand what is happening. This is really not about us. This is about them. What has happened in these society is the lid has come up, the dictatorships have gone. The real story is not about bad government in Libya. It's about no government in Libya. The new government, the democratically elected government, barely has control over the country. That's why you are seeing forces come up.

These embassies are -- you know this, Wolf, you walk around these embassies. They're not ringed with cordons of troops anywhere in the world, certainly not in the Arab world. This was an easy target in a society in which governance and government had collapsed. It's more like Somalia with the Black Hawk Down episode than it is like Tehran in 1979.

I think the Obama administration has responded fine. But the most important thing is this is not about us, this is about them.

BLITZER: Good point. Fareed, thank you very much.

ZAKARIA: Pleasure as always, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're closely following this developing story. As protests spread from one Arab nation to another, stay with CNN tonight and throughout the weekend, for all of the breaking news.

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